Valtteri Bottas admits that the virtual safety car that came after Vettel’s retirement was ‘like a miracle’ for Mercedes after they were under a threat of fourth consecutive defeat to Ferrari in Russia.
Leclerc won a commanding pole position with four-tenths advantage ahead of Hamilton on Saturday despite a not ideal third sector with two minor mistakes and Ferrari took the top two positions after the start and controlled the race despite controversy with their drivers.
But after Vettel retired in front of Leclerc after his pitstop, he caused the virtual safety car conditions during which drivers have to drive 40% slower.
This allowed Mercedes to take the lead with Hamilton ahead of Leclerc after the pitstop and when Ferrari also called Leclerc to replace the medium with soft, Mercedes held the first two positions and held them until the end of the race.
Leclerc tried to attack Bottas by the end of the race, but the Finn drove without mistakes to avoid any attack fom yound Ferrari driver even though SF90 was faster on the straights.
“I think they had a strong car today, good pace and, as we’ve seen this year, they’ve been extra quick on the straights. So I knew if they get close enough, especially in Sector Three, they are going to be a big threat into Turn Two.
“Just really had to try to keep it together,” he continued, “try to minimise the mistakes and, you know, the car felt pretty decent today, especially with the soft tyre in the corners.
“So, try to really maximise everything I could in the corners, and try to get a good Sector Three and good exit out of the last corner and that way I could keep the position.
“But yeah, to be in that position beforehand, I think the team did all the right things today.
“Already the decision yesterday to start on the mediums to go long in the first stint, you know then, at certain points when you go long in the first stint, you start to hope for that VSC or Safety Car to come… and today it came. Like a miracle. So, that’s always good. So, yeah, bit better feeling than yesterday for sure.”
Keeping Leclerc behind ‘priority’ for Bottas
Bottas admits that the safety car the priority was to keep Leclerc, not to attack Hamilton.
“For me the priority was definitely to try to keep Charles behind,” said Bottas.
“For sure I was trying in the beginning. If I could get a chance at the restart of the Safety Car and the first lap, but there was no way. So, I was trying to balance out in the first few laps to push hard enough to keep Charles behind and, at the same time, try and leave a little bit of margin to Lewis. Because when you follow very close behind obviously you slide and destroy the tyres easier.”
“So, I think the few seconds gap I had most of the second stint at the end was ideal. I could get a bit of a tow effect on the straights and not too much sliding in the corners. So, that’s pretty ideal.”
“But I have to say, Lewis was very quick today and, especially the first stint [medium], I don’t know why, I didn’t have the pace to match. Second stint [on soft] was a lot better.”